Natural Resources and Environment

Last Friday, EPA announced that it is initiating review of the proposed mining of the Pebble deposit in Alaska under Section 404(c) of the Clean Water Act, a little-used part of the CWA that allows EPA to “veto” Section 404 permits issued by the Army Corps of Engineers. As we briefly discussed over on Graham

It has been a while since my last dam removal update, and there is a lot to report. At the one year mark (September 2012), the lower dam had already been removed. Since that time, the area surrounding the dam has continued to be re-vegetated and the difference between September 2011 and September 2013

Last week, when the Ninth Circuit denied the petition for rehearing en banc of the decision in Washington Environmental Council v. Bellon, it took what may be the final step to limit the role of courts in the debate over regulation to restrict carbon emissions. Bellon held that environmental plaintiffs do not have standing to sue to compel the Northwest Clean Air Agency (NWCAA) to set stricter standards for greenhouse gas emissions.

In Bellon, the environmental plaintiffs sought to compel the Northwest Clean Air Agency to adopt new RACT (Reasonably Available Control Technology) standards for the five oil refineries in Washington. The district court agreed and ordered NWCAA to determine RACT for the refineries within 26 months. Standing requires that a plaintiff show not just that it has been injured, but also that its injury can be remedied by a decision of the courts. The Ninth Circuit reversed, finding that the plaintiffs had not shown, and could not show, the required causality between their conceded injury from global warming, and any failure by NWCAA to adopt RACT rules, or that a judicial decision would provide them with any remedy for their injury.

The denial of rehearing en banc was supported by an opinion by Judge Milan Smith, joined by Judge Randy Smith, putting the issue succinctly:

Under Lujan [v. Defenders of Wildlife], it was Plaintiffs’ burden to come forward with evidence at the summary judgment stage demonstrating that injunctive relief would: (1) cause the Defendant-agencies to promulgate RACT standards that demand cleaner technology than the oil companies currently use; (2) that the oil companies would comply with these new standards; (3) that the oil companies’ compliance would reduce greenhouse gas emissions; and (4) that these lower emissions would mitigate global climate change in a way that would alleviate Plaintiffs’ alleged injuries.


Continue Reading The Courts Exit the Debate Over Regulation of Greenhouse Gas Emissions

USA Today had an article last week with the worst good news for carbon emissions that I’ve read in a while. The good news was that U.S. emissions fell to the lowest rate since the mid-1990s, dropping 200 million tons, or 3.8 percent. The bad news is that world carbon emissions rose by 1.4 percent in 2012 to a record high of 31.6 billion tons.

China is now the world’s largest emitter of carbon, with growth in emissions up 300 million tons or 3.8 percent since 2011. Developing countries now account for 60 percent of global emissions from energy use, up from 45 percent in 2000.

So what does that tell us? Does it mean that the people who have resisted any national energy policy for the United States, much less having the United States sign international carbon treaties are right – there is nothing that the United States can do that makes any difference? On a happier note, does it mean that the United States is actually doing quite well, making steady progress towards the goal of reducing its carbon emissions to sustainable levels?

I would answer those questions “no” and “no.” There are no simple answers in the search for sustainability. At a headlines-level, the report is bewildering and disheartening. But the report provides layers of data, precisely because achieving carbon sustainability is not going to be possible if you don’t look behind the headlines.
Continue Reading Hope, Despair and the Challenges Going Forward: The IEA 2012 Report on World Energy Statistics